Fairfield County Community Foundation is a 20 year old Norwalk based organization made up of 17 community foundations serving the County’s 23 cities and towns. FCCF manages over $150 million for high wealth individuals, corporations and organizations, and has donated more than $151 million to many, many charities throughout Fairfield County. It is the third largest of Connecticut’s 17 community foundations – after Hartford’s and New Haven’s.
FCCF is important to Sunrise Rotary because it manages money the club raises to support its charitable giving program.
Ms. James told the group that when she was offered the opportunity to consider the Foundation “I couldn’t think of anything more fitting… (because) it is involved in everything I care about – arts, education, the environment, and health and human services.”
She was selected following a successful 37 year corporate career marked by taking on tough assignments and developing strategies that brought about meaningful change and significant improvement in the metrics essential to each business.
James also built a parallel career – taking on leadership roles in her communities. Among those she remains active in are Reading is Fundamental, Childcare Learning Center’s Leadership Council, Stamford Symphony and the Ferguson Library. She is also a Trustee of Lesley University and a Trustee Emerita of her alma mater, Princeton University.
She grew up in Brooklyn as the only child of a Guyanese immigrant mother. Despite having only a ninth grade education, she taught her daughter two important lessons. First, homework became young James’ first priority – if she got a 97 on a test, her mother told her “if you had applied yourself you would have gotten the other three points.”
The second life lesson was being the model for helping others: she was a dressmaker who found the resources to help bring all eight of her brothers and sisters to this country.
James excelled in the classroom, earned a scholarship to Princeton, became a member of one of its first co-ed classes and graduated with a degree in Romance Languages.
After Princeton James took a position as a purchasing agent with electronics manufacturer Thomson-CSF. She left to join Time-Life, where she moved through financial, editorial and human resource positions in the Books Division and the parent company. At every step she expanded her resume and left her area of responsibility stronger than she found it – more efficient, more competitive, more profitable, and more meaningful to the company.
She joined Pitney-Bowes in 1999 to lead two important global Human Resources programs, and, again left a “wide and lasting mark” in multiple businesses. James retired in 2010 as Chief Marketing and Communications Officer to assume leadership of FCCF.
The Foundation “can’t make systemic change alone” she said, and contrasted its business model with those employed in the private sector. FCCF shares – foundations “learn from each other, collaborate and partner to make systemic change.”
Among the areas FCCF touches is affordable housing – it belongs to a consortium of almost 20 community foundations that has helped more than 5,000 people enjoy 400 new homes and more than 1,000 rehabilitated units.
Another is education. The Foundation had determined that by 2014 half the principals leading the 92 schools in Bridgeport, Danbury, Stamford and Norwalk will retire, leaving a vacuum affecting 60,000 students who already face one of the largest achievement gaps in the country.
Five years ago, working with the Connecticut Center for School Change, they began to train 60 future leaders. 28 now hold leadership positions. One has become an assistant principal.
A third is enhancing opportunities for women. The FCCF’s Fund for Women and Girls, the largest of its type in New England, aids female Norwalk Community College students with dependents as they progress toward associates and bachelors degrees.
The program has aided 80 students. 23 have graduated from NCC, 13 now attend four year colleges. The fund has reduced debt they would otherwise have accumulated, raised their credit scores, helped them build assets and it has helped them raise their GPAs and complete their coursework.
The Foundation is important to Sunrise Rotary because it manages funds the club donates through its Young Voices Fund. The relationship was established eight years ago to support charities that promote greater understanding and respect for differences among the area’s teenagers. One such was a film making program that brought together teens in Westport and Bridgeport. Working together, the youths learned about each other in a way that no course, no textbook, not even athletic competition could – and left them all with a work product they could be proud of.
Those interested in learning more about the work of the Foundation may visit their website: http://www.fccfoundation.org/cm/Home.html.